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NATO dismisses Macedonia 'attack'

NATO dismisses Macedonia 'attack'

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO has dismissed a statement by the Macedonian government that its troops were attacked by ethnic Albanian gunmen.

The Macedonian Army said on Thursday rebels launched a heavy attack on one of its border posts near the U.N.-governed Kosovo with machine guns and hand-held rocket launchers.

The attack was described as one of the most serious incidents directed at its forces since last year's guerrilla insurgency. The soldiers returned fire and after a one-hour gun battle the attackers fled toward nearby mountains, a spokesman said.

But on Friday, the military alliance said it had sent a fact-finding team to the scene but found no evidence of a fierce gun battle.

"There might have been an incident but clearly not in the dimension and not in that kind as it was mentioned," said Gen. Heinz Georg Keerl, commander of NATO's 700-strong peacekeeping mission in the Balkan country.

"There is no impact, no cases or other indicators of a heavy fight. I'm quite confident on the facts on the ground that we did not have a major incident as it was described," he told Reuters.

Macedonia's peace is still fragile after a six-month battle last year in which ethnic Albanians fought for greater civil rights.

A Western-brokered deal was struck under which the rebels agreed to surrender their weapons to NATO troops under Operation Essential Harvest.


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